New Life: Birth and Rebirth

Last Sunday, I wasn’t having a particularly great afternoon. The morning had started off pretty well, in all fairness. The weather was beautiful, a blissful, balmy 28 degrees, more tropical than typical UK weather. I’d gone to yoga for a particularly sweaty session and very much enjoyed it. The afternoon took a turn for the worst, however, when I learnt I’d been rejected for a job I’d been pretty confident I’d at least be elegible to be interviewed for. As usual when I feel inadequate, my thoughts inexplicably and uselessly turned to regulating my food intake and exercise levels. I felt uncomfortable – it was Father’s Day and we’d had a buffet lunch. I suddenly felt weak, out of control and greedy. I felt that I’d over indulged and old, restrictive thoughts started to swim menacingly, shark-like around the peripheries of my mental space. Altough I’d been lounging in the garden with my family, basking in the (rare) sunshine, I’m ashamed to say that I gave in to compensatory behaviours and sneaked off to excericse. My mother followed me and rumbled me in my attempts. I was embarrassed and annoyed with myself – as much as I feel I really have managed to forge a much healthier relationship with food on the whole, some aspects of my mentality surrounding my consumption and my body remain strange. Her calling me out on the ridiculousness of surreptitiously isolating myself in order to ‘burn off’ lunch when I should be enjoying relaxing family time made me realise how selfish I was being. It also made me realise how far I still have to go to feel ‘normal’ again in regards to my thoughts and behaviours. I let my insecurities get the better of me, yet again. 

So I was feeling pretty subdued, on the whole. Tired. Tired of battling with myself day in, day out. Tired of job hunting. Tired of being afraid. 

Things certainly got a hell of a lot brighter when my cousin casually informed me via text that she’d given birth, three weeks early, to her second child. A baby boy. She invited us to go and visit them in the maternity ward of the local hospital. We jumped in the car, eager and excited to do just that. 

I saw him and thought immediately: he’s perfect. He has a dent in his ear at the moment (forceps – ouch). Perfect. He has a slight scratch. Still perfect. He’s healthy. Beautiful. I watched his chest rise and fall, watched his hands curl into into little fists. I traced the oval shape of his tiny fingernails. Perfect. So alive. Babies are the opposite of tired. They are so awake, so raw. They are painfully, stunningly, beautifully fresh. New. I sometimes wonder if that’s why they wail so piercingly. Why wouldn’t they? Everything is a first – every sight, every sound, a sensory overload. Baby L was patient as he was passed around like a beloved, tiny, precious parcel from one adoring, cooing relative to another. I held him in my arms and as he blinked those blue eyes open, peering into mine, the afternoon’s feeling of being irreversibly tired just melted away. He was placid and strikingly peaceful while we held him. He was so content, and holding him, a bundle of purity pernsonified and encased in a teeny babygrow, I felt content too. I looked at my cousin, who’d been so brave in what was, by all accounts, a pretty horrendous birthing experience. I watched her smile down at her first son, and got a reality check on what’s actually important in life. Love. Family. 

Sunday was a day of gains, on the whole. I may have lost a job prospect. Lost some peace of mind, some perceived ‘progress.’ So what? Life is not linear. It has ups and down, and the day’s gains outweighed the losses. I gained a new member of my family. I looked down at him and saw the world through raw, fresh eyes. I gained perspective. I looked at him and felt love: I gained extra room in my heart, as corny as that sounds. A new person to love. 

Last weekend we welcomed 7lbs of joy into our family and into the world. I hope baby L soaks up life. I hope he looks around at the simpering faces cooing down at him (I imagine we look simultaneously idiotic and fairly menacing), and that he is able to sense how much he is loved. I’ve only met him once, in the three days he has so far experienced. He has already made my life better. He has already made me appreciate life more. He has already made me less tired. 

Life is precious. New life is the even more so. Here’s to living like the oversized babies that we all are – curious, soaking up new senses, surroundings, and experiences. Here’s to loving without limits. Here’s to family. Here’s to realising what the important things really are, and taking comfort in the fact that every day is a second chance; an opportunity to be born again. 

Getting Snap Happy – A Quick Update

This was initially intended to be a different, longer, more thoroughly researched post. I started a piece focused upon my belief that art – from contemporary pieces produced by artists today to work from the old masters – can help us to appreciate the beauty within ourselves and in the world around us. Art is, after all, a tangible record, a documentation and a visual depiction of an aestheticised subject. It’s an encapsulation of that particular artist’s version of beautiful. 

Portraits are particularly useful in considering the ever transitioning standards of beauty. Body goals for Rubens are quite different to the #fitspo that populates the Instagram feeds of 2017. Botticelli’s Venus probably wouldn’t make it down the runway come New York fashion week. Picasso’s painted ladies would need facial realignment surgeries, but I’m actually not sure that having eyes in the side of your face was a good look back then, either. The point I’m trying clumsily to make is this; there’s no one way to be beautiful – there really is just difference, and that difference should be celebrated.  I will write that piece eventually, when the time is right. It just isn’t right today.

Truth is, I started writing, and I felt like an utter fraud. I’ve been having a few rough days body-image wise, analysing my reflection in the mirror far too often. What kind of hypocrite was I? How could I possibly preach about the importance of seeing beauty in all things when I can’t even find peace or acceptance in regards to my own body? I haven’t weighed myself in an age, but I can see changes starting, slowly. As I’m trying to become less rigid in my eating habits and rules (I’ve documented my body/food issues in much more detail in an earlier post, in the unlikely event that you’re interested), allowing myself to eat delicious food with my family, and not documenting every single calorie that passes my lips, I’m slowly but surely becoming less bony, less fragile looking. The bones in my hands and feet are becoming less pronounced. I’m finding that I’m bloating in my belly after eating, but my rib-cage is still pronounced, giving me a shape that I feel is reminiscent of a pregnant stick-insect. Attractive. I’m still thin – too thin for my natural weight. I will undoubtedly gain more weight, and should. I know this, but these perceived changes, real or imaginary, unavoidably send me hurtling down a rabbit-hole of ruminations on my body fueled by self-doubt and insecurity. I find myself spiraling, ridiculously, annoyingly, for not much reason at all, into a pretty damn anxious state. I need to be drawn out of myself, distracted from my preoccupation with thoughts about my own looks. One thing that’s really helped these past couple of days has been photography.

My fabulous mum and dad bought me an DSLR Camera for my birthday, and they really generously presented it to me a little early. I really enjoy taking snaps while I’m out and about, but as of yet have been sticking with the trusty iPhone. Although a lot more cumbersome, there’s something just inherently more satisfying about hearing the click of a full-size, proper camera. I’m still very, very, very much an amateur photographer – I can barely even get the camera to focus. Yet it makes me happy. I’m finding myself looking at the world around me from a new perspective, thinking about something other than myself and seeing the beauty in the small details. Through a photographer’s eyes, I’m noticing the drops of dew on a spiderweb, the symmetry of a ladybird’s spots, the spectrum of colours in a magpie’s wings. I’m looking for beauty in places I wouldn’t have before and finding it. Although this is a slightly rambling, confused kind of post, (admittedly, I am often both rambling and confused myself), I hope it just conveys, in a kind of round-about-way, that we can find something lovely in just about most things. Photography is helping me to become less wrapped up in my own head – instead of wandering around outside, zombie-like and engrossed in thought, I’m actively looking at my surroundings, searching for a chance to get snap happy. Nature is awesome, and the universe seems to be generally pretty willing to provide some kind of photo opportunity. I’d encourage anyone to find an activity that keeps you mindful, even if it isn’t photography. It’s so necessary for our overall well being to be brought back to the present moment, distracted from incessant ‘what-if’s’ and worries. Sometimes, we just have to look up, view life through a rose-tinted camera lens, and appreciate a pretty goddamn flower. There’s so much beauty in the small things – we just need to be willing to see it.

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For more excessive pictures of flowers (and a few awkward selfies…), check out my personal Instagram account @lornsmae

Mental Chatter: Some Of My Recurring Worries And How I Try To Deal With Them

Minds are messy. I sometimes find myself trapped in a tangled web of worries regarding how others perceive me. I’m often anxious that there’s a disconnect between who I am and who others believe I am. I rarely take an action without worrying what others will think of my decision. This results in me stalling and dithering, a ball of frustrated anxiety, trying and failing to find a solution that pleases everyone, and achieving only mass-dissatisfaction.

A technique that I’ve found mildly successful in silencing these worries is simply asking myself: does it actually matter? Does it matter what people think of me? Have I behaved in a way that I, personally, think is acceptable? If so, good. If not, I need to reconsider my actions and go from there. I must be my own judge and not let others’ perceptions of me haunt my every action and influence all of my decisions. Crucially, when we worry what others think of us, we project our own insecurities onto those surrounding us. We assume that everyone has noticed what we conceive as our ‘weak points’. We construct others’ perceptions of us. This is pointless and a waste of mental energy. It is all guesswork. Please yourself, do what you think is right. Make yourself proud and I believe the rest will follow.

We think that people think about us a lot more than they actually do. I actually find this thought incredibly comforting. I often feel incredibly conflicted – on a sensible, intellectual level, I know that no-one actually gives a damn if, say, I eat a muffin. But sometimes the mind is neither sensible nor logical. ‘They’ll think you’re greedy if you eat that,’ a nasty little voice occasionally whispers into my ear. ‘Disgusting, greedy pig. Lazy. You’ve barely done anything today. Of course they’re allowed to eat it. But not you, you don’t deserve it.’ And on it goes. This cruel, irrational, bullying self-punishment for a crime I haven’t committed. Unless, that is, I make a conscious and overt effort to battle against these thoughts, disregarding them as illogical. Would you ever think less of someone you love for eating a muffin? Um, no, me neither. I make an effort to pause, and halt this internal diatribe against myself. Eat the damn muffin, smile and be happy. None of this matters. Most of the time these days, I am able to do just that.

I worry. Who am I? Why don’t I have a clear perception of my own identity? How is everyone else so sure, so confident of their place in the world and how they fit in to it? When I am able to think rationally, I wonder, is everyone quite as sure as I think they are? If they aren’t, we are alike and our struggles are similar. If they are, then their confidence has likely been gained through experience. If they are as unflappable and self-assured as I perceive them to be, then good. Life is not a competition. If we are not in competition with those around us, it makes sense that we cannot then ‘fall behind.’ The ‘but-they’re-doing-so-much-better-than-me-because-I-saw-that-one-post-on-facebook’ mentality is so draining and poisonous. I am trying to restrain myself from comparing my journey to the journey of those around me. Sometimes the answer to reducing our stress-levels is as simple as ‘don’t think too much.’ Many of us inflict unnecessary suffering upon ourselves by analyzing situations needlessly, hypothesizing on a future that we can never fully be sure of until it arrives. I am trying to stop sweating it about the small stuff.

This one is embarrassing to admit because it’s so shallow, but I think it’s something many of us worry about: on bad self-image days, I worry that others think I’m unattractive. I can see a bad photo of myself and still be thinking about it long after the camera has been put away. I’m ashamed to say that there have been times that I’ve been having fun, enjoying myself and not caring how I look and someone has taken a candid photo of me. I’ve afterwards looked at this picture, been horrified, and it’s spoiled the otherwise fantastic time I’d been having. This is obviously pretty sad, self-obsessed, and not to mention pointless. I could spend an eternity analyzing my own reflection for flaws. At times we suffer with negative self-image, I think it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we are our own worst critics. No-one else is critiquing our profile side on, obsessing over whether our bellies look noticeably bloated or not. If you spoke to a friend in the same way that you think/speak about yourself, would you have many friends left? Thought not. I know that these ideas are easy to say and much, much harder to put into practice. I know most of us would probably feel pretty ridiculous standing in front of the mirror telling ourselves non-ironically; ‘I love you. You’re gorgeous, you’re wonderful’ (not that you shouldn’t tell yourself these things – you are undoubtedly both!) Most of the general populous, however, aren’t going to be parading around Gilderoy Lockhart style, waxing lyrical about the wonder of ‘me, magical me’ anytime soon. I’m not suggesting that we all can or should take self-confidence and self-love to those dizzying heights. But just making an effort to silence the negative thoughts surrounding our appearance that subtly chip away at our self-esteem over time can make a significantly positive impact upon how we feel about ourselves

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I would buy a self-help book written by Professor Lockhart. Pre-Memory Charm, obviously. (If you haven’t read Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets….where have you been?)
Self-love goals. Urm, maybe not.
I worry. ‘Why am I such a coward?’ I think, desperately. ‘Why do I find it so hard to take risks? Will I always be so afraid?’ Yes, that’s right, I worry about worrying. Incredible. If they did a degree in worrying, I would graduate with First Class Honors. How do I quieten these thoughts? I’ll be honest – sometimes, I can’t. Writing helps. So does yoga, usually. A good book. Consciously releasing any tension I am holding in my body. Smiling. Fresh air. Looking up at the sky. Remembering that I am a spec in a vast and incomprehensibly wide universe. Reminding myself that I love and am loved in return. 9 out of 10 times (an unofficial stat, but still), the things we are worrying about are usually not that significant, even if they feel vital at the time. If I f**ck up occasionally, I am learning that that’s okay. The world around me will not collapse. It sounds counter-intuitive but, actually, sometimes thinking about why we’re worrying and getting to the root of the fear we feel can actually be useful. For example, when I stop and think about it, I am able to understand that two reasons I find it hard to take risks are that;

a) I have a perfectionist streak, am terrified of failure, and as such find it hard to take leaps into the unknown. I am afraid that things will go wrong and I will be unable to deal with it. I will not be able to be ‘perfect.’

b) I am afraid of making a mistake and looking silly.

After I’ve identified the root of this fear, I am able to deal with it head-on. Do I really want to miss out on opportunities and life experiences because I will be chasing the impossible construction that is ‘perfection’? As for point B), again – is it worth missing out on all the things that life has to offer due to a fear of looking ‘silly’? Every mistake is an experience.

I read an article recently about the importance of developing a personal manta. This can sound slightly hippy-dippy, but having a go-to phrase just to silence the incessant mental chatter of worries can actually be really calming. It doesn’t have to be fixed. Mine varies daily. One that often works quite well is just reminding myself ‘there are good things happening all around me.’ I also like; ‘this is not as scary as it seems.’ Sometimes I need to reconnect with the present, ground myself and touch back down to Earth after floating away on a grey storm-cloud of anxiety. When I hear my voice raised a couple of octaves (and believe me, my voice is already pretty high-pitched) and tightened with anxious energy, I exhale, pause, and remind myself ‘I am doing my best.‘ These five words continue to motivate me to try my hardest, to fight becoming sucked in to a vacuum of suffocating stress, and help me to give myself a much needed reality check.

The crux of this post is, I suppose, that if you’re someone that feels your mind is constantly whirring, writhing with what-if’s and worries at any given moment, you cannot simply indulge or give-in to this negative mental chatter. I hope that some of the techniques I’ve explored in this post prove in some way useful – I feel I can only really loosely call it ‘advice.’ These are just some methods that I use when I’m bogged down in a marsh-land of insecurity and worry. They work for me, usually, and I really hope that they work for you. I truly hope that you can find the serenity you’re searching for, and that, for the most part, you can regain control of your thoughts and tell your mind to STFU.

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I hope that your mind feels as peaceful at some point today as this picture I took on aeroplane last summer looks. Image @lornsmae

Reflections On Flowers and Weeds: The Objective Nature Of Beauty

“I did not decide which were the weeds and which were the flowers, my child.” These words were not, surprisingly, uttered by Tolkien’s Gandalf and ripped straight from the pages of ‘Fellowship Of The Ring.’ They were, in fact, proclaimed mystically by mother over an otherwise fairly normal phone conversation. I paused, impressed by the profound theological impact of this statement. “Wow,” I said, “that was wise.” “Hmm,” she replied, unruffled. “Well, I’m sick of your dad digging all my nice flowers up.”

Spiky, but sweet. Images from personal Instagram account @lornsmae
I have to say, I align with my dad on this one – I have on more than one occasion dug up some of mum’s bulbs in the garden under the mistaken impression that they were weeds. I found that whilst helping out in what I privately like to dub my ‘Paddington Style’, i.e ‘doing a magnificent job of well-meaningly f**king everything up’, it was actually really difficult to differentiate between a weed ripe for plucking and a sprout in need of cultivation. As much as I adore photographing, smelling and being generally appreciative of the existence of flowers (and some weeds, in fact) as a concept, Alan Titchmarsh will not be calling me up for gardening tips any time soon.

I actually find that the flower analogy is incredibly useful in thinking about our own beauty. An orchid doesn’t look much like a lily, and yet both are beautiful. People have different preferences, much as they are likely to in terms of physical appearance. Where someone else sees a weed to be eradicated, you may see a flower. You may prefer poppies to sunflowers. That doesn’t negate the fact that someone else might wish to fill every available surface in their home with the jolly yellow flower. (Disclaimer – the sunflower method is not necessarily a recommended style of interior design – the way my year 8 art teacher told it, it didn’t seem to cheer Van Gogh up much, unfortunately). A bluebell, I recently discovered, is technically a weed. I would actually argue that it’s my favourite wildflower. It’s all a matter of perception.

Model and actress Cara Delevingne mused on the subjective nature of beauty on a thought-provoking recent Instagram post. Her previously long, sleek, Barbie-esque blonde locks shaved off completely for her latest role, she looks powerful and starkly beautiful. This new, raw aesthetic is a complete departure from her previously carefully cultivated appearance.

“Its exhausting to be told what beauty should look like,” writes Delevingne. “I am tired of society defining beauty for us. Strip away the clothes, Wipe Off the make up, cut off the hair. Remove all the material possessions. Who are we? How are we defining beauty? What do we see as beautiful?”

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Image sourced from Cara’s Instagram @caradelevingne. Cara advises in her Bio: “Don’t worry, be happy ❤️ Embrace your weirdness 💥 STOP LABELLING, START LIVING.”
Indeed. How are we defining beauty? Why should we be given rigid, and often paradoxical, standards to conform to in terms of how we should look? Why should we let society decide for us what is a weed and what is a flower?

Ultimately, as trite and cliché as the saying is, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. The tulip doesn’t wish it were small and dainty like the daisy, and the rose doesn’t berate itself for the existence of its thorns. They just bloom where they are planted. We shouldn’t waste our time comparing ourselves to others, or view someone else’s body/smile/general appearance as ‘goals’. As hard as it is, we should aim to appreciate another’s beauty without questioning our own, without wishing that we were beautiful in the same way. As Miranda Kerr states; “All flowers are beautiful in their own way, and that’s like women too. I want to encourage women to embrace their own uniqueness.”

Like the flower, we all need sunlight, water, and space to spread our roots in order to flourish. Live a life that nourishes you, and you will undoubtedly bloom.

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Images: @lornsmae

#Unfiltered: Lily Collins, autobiography, and why we all probably need a #realitycheck

The news often vaguely ominously informs us that we live in the “Age of Social Media.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what this actually means, about the impact of social media upon all of our lives, and particularly about its impact upon Generation Z – those of us born from the mid 1990s to 2010. At the risk of sounding like I’m playing the world’s smallest violin over here, I actually think us Z-listers have it pretty rough in a few respects. First of all, unlike our parents before us, we do not as of yet have a Spice Girls song named after our generation, which I feel is a problem. Spice Girls gripe aside, I also notice that the creeping encroachment of social media in every aspect of our day-to-day experience is something that older generations (understandably) struggle to comprehend. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can actually prove as damaging as they are connecting. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, as though everyone else’s life is picture perfect. Sometimes your life can feel like a bad night-club photo. All of your friends look beautiful and perfectly poised, whereas you’re not looking at the camera, have accidentally shut your eyes, and half of your head has been cropped from the photo frame. Unfortunately, real life has no ‘untag’ option.

Something that actress Lily Collins explores brilliantly in

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#Unfiltered but still, presumably, filtered. Taken from Lily Collins’ Instagram @lilyjcollins

her autobiographical book ‘#Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me’ is the value of transparency in the age where Instagram reigns and no post is complete without a smattering of hashtags and a flattering filter. I related to a lot of the issues she explores within the novel, as many others within my age bracket will undoubtedly do so. Collins tackles everything from relationship issues to eating disorders, body image struggles, and articulates that gnawing feeling that you’re just plain old weird. She does so with a tact and wittiness that came as both a surprise and pleasure to me. The book was courageous. There’s an incredible bravery in laying yourself bare. Sure, some of the sentiments were slightly saccharine, but the book was ultimately inspiring and uplifting. It made me smile. It made me cry. It was jarring to see some of the feelings I struggle everyday to express articulated clearly on the page by a celebrity that I had admittedly previously admired more for her beauty and style than for her emotional intelligence.

All in all, I think we (myself included), need to unplug and appreciate the value of living #unfiltered. Like Collins so brilliantly says,  “We all want to feel part of something greater. But sometimes, though we recognize this shared instinct to connect, we get stuck in our own heads, convincing ourselves that no one else could understand our problems, that we’re outsiders.” Scrolling  through an infinite feed of posed photographs, it is incredibly easy to get caught in a spiral of self-hatred and to just feel utterly at sea, wondering if everyone else has been given some kind of manual on how to succeed and yours has gotten lost in the post. ‘I’m not enough,’ we sometimes tell ourselves, getting trapped inside our own minds and giving in to crippling waves of insecurity. In a concluding chapter, Collins lays out a stark sentence that I absolutely adore. “I will never need anyone to complete me,” she states. “I am enough on my own.” This simple mantra is so empowering, and one that we often forget. You are ‘enough’ without any validation from anyone else. You are not a number of ‘likes’. You are not as worthy as your best selfie. There is beauty in the unposed. There is beauty in your ‘bad angles’. There is beauty in you, as you are, even if you cannot quite see it yet.

When someone is brave enough to be transparent about their thoughts, feelings and life experiences, we can often see facets of ourselves reflected within others. To me, there is a complete purity and comfort in looking at someone else and feeling slightly less alone. There’s a serenity that comes with knowing that our dissatisfaction, our problematic behaviours and our insecurities are not unique. And not only that, but knowing that they are common. No-one is permanently living a life that is #instagood.

So, I’m going to follow Lily’s advice, take a chance, and be a little more #unfiltered. As she so rightly says, if no-one acknowledges the inherent artificiality of social media, and the problems tied with the construction of our lives as a roll of staged ‘best-bits’, the more people will grapple with feelings of unworthiness in private. “A conversation can’t start unless someone speaks up,” writes Collins. I will freely admit that for every selfie I post on social media, there are twelve others on the camera roll that I’ve rejected, mercilessly looking for any visible flaw. Each picture is filtered, blemishes blurred, red-eye corrected. I might post a picture of myself smiling in a hot tub on holiday in a bikini, but the day before I was crying in the mirror, feeling lost and completely alien in my own body. I am far from perfect. I am deeply flawed. Sometimes I smile and mean it, sometimes I cry and mean that too. This is true of every other single human being on the planet. We need to be mindful when engaging with Instagram and Facebook. We need to remember that those that we follow are likely only posting the snapshots from a ‘highlights reel’, and that a smile is easily faked. Perhaps we all need a little (or a large) #realitycheck. Social media is not a true representative of reality. So glory in your perfectly imperfect self. To quote Dr. Seuss, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Be true to what you feel, and I firmly believe that magic will happen. Self-love and gaining confidence is a slow process, but I truly hope it’s possible to achieve, even in an age where self-esteem is easily shattered and appearances are deceiving. I firmly believe that when you’re truly happy, filtering your life will become unnecessary and redundant, and Instragram will feel a hell of a lot less important.